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Football Outside of the Big Ten - The WAC


From time to time, it's important to look outside the Big Ten and remind ourselves that there is football being played by other teams in other conferences.  The Rivalry, Esq. continues its look at those other conferences with the bastion of the undefeated: the WAC.  Four times in the last five years, the WAC champion has gone undefeated in the regular season.

Here's the thing you may not have realized, though.  In those four seasons, the WAC champion has only won one bowl game.  Hawai'i go flat out embarrassed by the Georgia Bulldogs.  Boise State lost two fantastic bowl games to other dominant mid-majors (2004's Liberty Bowl to then C-USA member Louisville and 2008's Poinsettia Bowl to TCU).  I'm sure you remember Boise State winning the made-for-TV movie against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2006 season.  In fact, that win is Boise State's lone bowl victory in the last five years.  So where does the league go from here?

If you haven't watched this in two years, it's worth seeing again.

The Rivalry, Esq. has already looked at these conferences:

Sun Belt



1)      2008 Recap

a. Who Won the League?

The Boise St. Broncos destroyed the league.  On their way to a 12-0 (8-0) regular season, San Jose State was the only WAC team to come within 17 points of the Broncos.


b. Games of Note

With Boise dominating the rest of the league, the best games came in the non-conference.  The three best teams in the league each had their big moments.

Boise earned its credibility by beating Oregon 37-32 in Autzen Stadium.  Fresno State aimed for the big media markets, and earned rave reviews off Broadway (with an opening night win over Rutgers) and in Hollywood (with a win over UCLA).  Louisiana Tech started its season by welcoming Mississippi State, fresh off a bowl win, to Ruston, LA.  The Tech Bulldogs beat the State Bulldogs 22-14.  Sylvester Croom's days as MSU head coach were officially numbered.  As an aside, Louisiana Tech is most certainly in the running for the best story of how a school chose its mascot.  Be warned, it's a tear-jerker...

c. Games Against the Big Ten

Date WAC Team Score Big Ten Team Score Location
September 13, 2008 Fresno State 10 Wisconsin 13 Fresno, CA

This is one of those games that felt like a bigger deal at the time.  Wisconsin was undefeated and coming off two very strong seasons.  The Bulldogs (OK, there are way too many Bulldogs in the world of college athletics) were the "it" team from the WAC and both squads were ranked in the Top 25.  It was a classic Big Ten brawl played in the California Valley.

d. Bowl Games

The good news for the WAC was that it managed to get five teams slots in bowl games.  The bad news (at least in four of those cases)  was that they played the games...

Fresno State lost to a mid-level Mountain West team, falling to Colorado State 40-35 in the New Mexico Bowl.  As mentioned above, Boise State lost in a fantastic game against TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl.

The bowl alignments ended up giving the WAC two shots at beating the big boys.  Hawai'i got absolutely routed on their home turf, losing 49-21 to a 6-6 Notre Dame squad.  The Wolfpack gave up a 99 yard kickoff return for a touchdown as well as 174 yards and two touchdowns to Da'Rel Scott (all in the second half) as Maryland beat Nevada by a touchdown in the Humanitarian Bowl.  Poof!  There went the conference's two shots at wins over BCS teams.


Only Louisiana Tech was able to secure a bowl win, beating Northern Illinois in nearby Shreveport, Louisiana.

2) 2009 Preview

a. Games of Note

This may well be the year that the league has the depth to spring upsets outside of just Boise and Fresno.  The road-heavy schedule makes that less likely, but still possible.

Date WAC Team Opponent Location
September 3, 2009 Boise State Oregon Boise, ID
September 5, 2009 Louisiana Tech Auburn Auburn, AL
September 5, 2009 Nevada Notre Dame South Bend, IN
September 12, 2009 Hawai'i Washington State Seattle, WA
September 12, 2009 Idaho Washington Seattle, WA
September 12, 2009 San Jose State Utah San Jose, CA
September 19, 2009 San Jose State Stanford Stanford, CA
September 25, 2009 Nevada Missouri Reno, NV
September 26, 2009 Fresno State Cincinnati Cincinnati, OH

Boise State gets it lone BCS opponent on opening night.  Two days later, LA Tech heads to Auburn to face a projected mid-level SEC team.  That game should be a good barometer of whether Tech is for real.  

Winning one of the odd Seattle Pac-10/WAC doubleheader would be nice.  The pressure will all be on the Vandals in their game against the Huskies.  Assuming that LSU beats Washington on 9/5, this will be Washington's chance to end the nation's longest losing streak.  That same day, San Jose State has a shot at Utah and (assuming that Utah State didn't end it the previous weekend) the nation's longest winning streak.

b. Games Against the Big Ten

Date WAC Team Big Ten Team Location
September 12, 2009 Fresno State Wisconsin Madison, WI
October 31, 2009 New Mexico State Ohio State Columbus, OH
December 5, 2009 Fresno State Illinois Champaign, IL
December 5, 2009 Hawai'i Wisconsin Honolulu, HI

Ohio State gets a treat on Halloween.  Fresno State gets to experience two seasons in Big Ten football (Can we arrange for snow for that first week in December?), and the Badgers end their season with the reward trip to paradise.

c. Bowl Affiliations

Newmexicobowl_small_2006_medium Hawaiibowl_2003_medium Humanitarianbowl_2007sm_medium

The WAC has the same three bowl alliances as last year.  The only difference: instead of an ACC team coming to Boise, this year will bring a Mountain West team.  While it may bring a more local fan base to the stadium, it takes away the one chance that the league had to guarantee a game against a BCS school.  That's not good.  

On the other hand, the league has done a good job of getting its teams into other games - even to the detriment of its partner games.  Boise State's fantastic games against Louisville and TCU only happened because the league worked the levers behind the scenes.  That's a good thing.  

3) 2009 Projections

a. Who Will Win the League?

Considering the domination that they showed last year, it's really hard to pick against Boise.  I mean REALLY hard.  Make no mistake, the league is better this year than last.  Hawai'i and Nevada are solid teams.  I really like Louisiana Tech as a sleeper.  But when push comes to shove, it looks like it will be the Broncos and the Bulldogs (the Fresno variety) that duke it out for the league crown on September 18th.  The game is in California, but I still like the talent coming out of Idaho.  Like I said, it's too hard to pick against Boise State.


No one said that they'd look good while winning...

b. Any Wins Against the Big Ten?

Ohio State is paying New Mexico State to come to Columbus.  They're not paying them to win.  The other three games depend upon your impressions of those teams.  If Fresno State is the league's best, they could win one, or both, of their games.  In that same vein, if Wisconsin and Illinois have repeat disappointing seasons, will they have their hearts in a December matchup with a WAC squad?  

I'll guess that Fresno State upsets Wisconsin in September and the league goes 1-3.  Truth be told, anything between 0-4 and 3-1 won't shock me.


It's happened before...Fresno State 32 Wisconsin 20 - Madison, WI - September 8, 2001.

c. Who Goes Bowling?

Assuming Boise State wins the league, they'll go somewhere.  The big question is, can they run the table again and possibly get a BCS berth?  I say no.  The road is too tough this year.  Games in Fresno, Ruston, Tulsa, and Honolulu provide too many chances to lose to a good team on the road.  The Ducks, if their young O-Line doesn't do them in, will be a stern test on opening night, as well.  I'd guess Boise at about 9 10 wins (edit to account for 13, rather than 12 game schedule).  Since they haven't played a bowl game at home in a number of years, a Humanitarian Bowl against the second best team from the Mountain West would be a good matchup.

If Hawai'i wins seven games, they'll play in the Hawai'i Bowl.  I think they go 7-6.

That leaves one slot in New Mexico for Fresno State, Louisiana Tech, and Nevada to fight over.  I'll guess Tech, since Fresno was there last year.

My guess is that Fresno will go to a non-WAC-affiliated bowl game.  If there is room for two, Nevada may get an extra game too. 

d. Any MNC Hopes?

Yes.  But, you'll have to wait for two weeks and the Mountain West preview for me to explain how.  

e. The Rivalry Notes

    This is a question posed to one of the site's founders that relates the conference at hand with the Big Ten.  Law Buckeye is up again...
    Boise State managed to go 12-0 before losing in a fantastic game against TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl.  If 2008 Boise State played this Big Ten Schedule, how many of the eight games would they have won? 
     @ Ohio State;  Penn State;  @ Iowa;  Northwestern;  @ Minnesota;  Illinois;  @Michigan;  Purdue
    Something a lot of people forget about Boise in 2008 is how balanced of a team they were.  They finished the season nationally 18th in total offense, and 19th in total defense.  
    As for how they'd stack up in our neck of the woods, to win in the Big Ten you've got to be able to stop the run.  Let's start there:   Boise's 2008 rushing defense was a laudable 21st in the country, allowing 1524 yards, or an average of 3.22 yards a carry.  But wait, you say, they did it against a WAC league that only put one team in the Top 40 for rushing offense.  The Big Ten had five by comparison, and four of those teams are on our hypothetical schedule!    Not so fast.  Boise played Nevada (3rd in the nation rushing), Louisiana Tech (27th in the nation rushing), and Southern Mississippi (24th in the nation rushing) out of conference, and was successful bringing all three lines to a halt.  (They did stumble against TCU, 12th in the nation rushing, allowing 197 yards on the ground).  I'm convinced Boise is capable of standing up to any particular Big Ten assault.  But can they do it week in and week out?   Let's go to the board:   
    1. @ Ohio State   The Buckeyes look a lot like TCU, or, I should say, TCU looks a lot like the Buckeyes.  The big difference here is the home field advantage.  Ohio Stadium swallows Boise.  LOSS.   
    2.  Penn State   Sure, it's the blue turf, but this Penn State team simply has too much speed at the defensive end positions.  Clark, et. al. pick apart a secondary that allowed an average of 190 yards in the air in 2008.  LOSS.   
    3.  @ Iowa   It's not going well so far, and it's not going to get better here.  Remember what Shonn Greene did to Penn State's linebackers?  He does it to Boise, and it's not pretty.  LOSS.   
    4.  Northwestern   Okay, this is the Bronco's first good chance to pick up a win.  Although the Wildcats of 2008 were much improved, I think Boise out smurfs Pat Fitzgerald.  WIN.   
    5.  @ Minnesota   This Minnesota team had too many problems against the pass.  Boise averaged 288 yards a game in the air.  The Dome is dead.  WIN.   
    6.  Illinois   Juice Williams throws an interception, and another one.  WIN.   
    7.  @ Michigan   Anything the MAC can do, the WAC can do better.  WIN.   
    8.  Purdue   This Purdue team was a mixed bag.  Sure, they almost beat Oregon -- but Boise did beat Oregon.  In Eugene, nonetheless.  WIN.
    Overall: 5-3